Cuban currency the cuban money guide

The 2021 Cuban Currency & Money in Cuba Guide

Cuba’s currency changed in 2021 when the Cuban government finally ended the dual currency system that has been in place since 1994.   The Cuban peso was devalued for the first time since Castro led the revolution in 1959.  This all makes dealing with Cuban currency a whole lot easier for visitors, although there are expected to be some bumps in the road before it’s all smoothed out.  So read on for a guide to Cuban currency, how to get cash in Cuba, what cash to take to Cuba, credit card usage in Cuba and what you should watch out for when paying for things in Cuba.  We’ll also provide a brief history of Cuban currency, so you can understand perhaps why many see the single currency as a welcome change, but why the change is impacting local Cubans massively (and not in a good way!).

The Cuban currency has been pegged at 24 Cuban Pesos to the US dollar.  Before 2021 when the dual currency system was in place there was (one currency for tourists and another for locals), the tourist “convertible” Cuban Peso (or CUC).  This CUC or “convertible peso” has been phased out as of June 2021.  There’s more on the recent history of the currency of Cuban later in this article.

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN COMPENSATED AND AFFILIATE LINKS. MORE INFORMATION IN OUR DISCLAIMER

How to buy Cuban currency – Where to Exchange Money in Cuba

The Cuban Peso is currently a closed currency.  That means it’s not available outside of the country.  So you can’t head to your bank or your home airport and change a few dollars or pounds before you get to Cuba.  You have to wait until you arrive to buy Cuban currency.

This will likely be your first experience of the Cuban queue.  Get used to it.   Don’t forget that you will need your passport to change money.

Buy Cuban Pesos from the Cuba official currency money exchange – CADECA

The official Cuban currency exchange offices are called Cadeca’s.  You’ll find them at airports – (here are our experiences at Havana Airport ) although the rates aren’t as great there, and you’ll also find them in major towns.  Just search for cadeca.    Rates will always be posted above the window that you approach individually – they won’t serve you if more than one person is at the window at a time.

Getting Cuban currency from Banks in Cuba

There are ATM’s in the major cities in Cuba.  We only had one instance where the ATM didn’t work – and that was because my debit card had been stopped by my bank.  Of course, this is a challenge when internet access was poor (read about how to get internet in Cuba here ) and my mobile phone didn’t work either.

You’ll want to ensure that you have an ATM card that works in Cuba. We use and recommend Revolut for both ATM withdrawals and debit card payments in Cuba. You can read more about it in our article on debit cards in Cuba here.

Buying Cuban Pesos On the Black Market

You can, of course, buy Cuban currency on the black market.  You’ll find plenty of offers – from the taxi or colectivo drivers, looking for hard currency, to those standing around waiting by ATMs and Banks.  All we’ll say is do this at your own risk.  Know how to check that the currency you’re receiving isn’t fake and that you understand what a good exchange rate is.

It is not illegal for YOU as a tourist to exchange money on the black market, but the person you’re exchanging with could get into trouble.  Don’t forget, if something, like the rate you’re being offered, sounds too good to be true, then IT IS.

There are also challenges right now with what Cubanos can do with your currency.  The US dollar lurches between being illegal to use and being used. 

The TLDR: on Currency, we don’t recommend buying Cuban pesos on the Black Market.

cuban currency

Use ATMs in Cuba

If you can use your ATM card in Cuba this is an easy way to manage your cash here.  You should check with your bank BEFORE you travel and always have a backup plan.  There are a few things you should know about ATMs in Cuba too.

Most US Bank cards will NOT work.  Most European, Latin Americans, Asian, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian bank cards WILL work in Cuban ATMs – but check for your particular bank. 

Wise (formerly Transferwise) cards will NOT work in Cuba. Revolut cards WILL work in Cuba. We wrote more about debit cards in Cuba here.

Why not get a free Revolut account now – the free account provides access to a virtual card and a free physical debit card (you have to pay for delivery) and this card gives you ATM withdrawals and can be used as a payment card too. AND it works in Cuba providing you the best foreign exchange rates! Sign up for a free account here now.

The following branded cards WORK in Cuba

  • Visa
  • Mastercard
  • Union Pay

The following branded cards do NOT work in Cuba

  • Cirrus
  • Switch
  • American Express

As a UK ATM cardholder, when we needed an ATM in Cuba we could find one.  And they always worked for us.  We have UK Bank Accounts and UK Cards.  Apart from once when my card stopped working.  Luckily, we had a backup, as it was a further 3 weeks before the card worked again (we were back in the UK before we were able to contact the bank!)

All foreign exchange rates, including those set by the Cuban banks ATM’s that you will use, are set by the Cuban government. 

Most Cuban ATMs have a withdrawal limit (usually the equivalent of US$200 PER DAY (not per transaction). Cuban ATMs usually dispense 10’s but can also dispense 5’s and 20’s.

Using Debit and Credit Cards in Cuba

You will be able to use Visa and MasterCard credit and debit cards in Cuba, but only at upmarket, high-end hotels, expensive restaurants and tourist shops.  So, if you’re staying in casa particulars that you haven’t prepaid, eating in paladars and hailing colectivos and taxis on the streets you’ll need to make sure you have cash.

However, you’ll want to be sure you have a backup of cash.  Power cuts are still likely to happen in Cuba and when the power goes out your credit cards won’t be approved and you’ll have to find an alternative means of payment. There’s more on debit cards in Cuba here.

Credit Cards in Cuba

Cuba is primarily a cash-based society when you’re there in person unless you’re staying at a high-end resort or hotel.  While we did use a credit card while we were in Cuba, it was to pay for pre-booked casa Particulars – which we’d booked through Booking.com 

We needed to use a VPN to log in to booking.com and make the payment using the wifi in the public park. Read our guide to VPN’s in Cuba here.

We didn’t stay at high-end hotels or eat in high-end restaurants and paid for all of our activities and food with cash.  In Cuba, credit cards are only really used at high-end establishments or for buying and pre-booking activities before your arrival.

US-based Credit Cards will not work in Cuba.

There is a 3% surcharge from Cuba on payments and cash withdrawals on credit cards in addition to any charges from your card provider.

Using Debit Cards in Cuba

Debit cards can be used in the same way as credit cards in Cuba.  If it’s a Visa or MasterCard, then it will be accepted in the same way that the credit card is.  You’ve just got to find the location that accepts it. Withdrawing money in Cuba from an ATM is the same as any other country. Revolut is a great way of accessing Cuban pesos from ATMs in Cuba.

Tips for Cash and Payments In Cuba

Your time in Cuba is limited.  We recommend organising as much as you can before you get there.  Plan what cash you’re likely to need, how you’ll pay for things, and, well, here are some tips for cash and payments while in Cuba.

Take Less Cash to Cuba by Prebooking and PrePaying Online

One way around this, if you’re not comfortable carrying wads of cash around is to prebook and prepay for your activities, accommodation and transport.  Here are some suggestions as to how you can do that.

  1. Prebook your transport – you can use our partner in Cuba to book AND pay for your airport transports, and shared or private rides all around the island.
  2. Prebook activities – want to take a classic car tour in Havana? A day trip to Vinales?  A private walking tour?  Book it online before you go to Cuba and you won’t have to worry about taking the cash there to pay for it. > read our article on things to do in Cuba and get some ideas for what you shouldn’t miss!
  3. Don’t forget that it is mandatory to have medical travel insurance for Cuba – if you don’t have it on arrival and you’re asked for it, you’ll have to buy a policy before you’ll be allowed in the country! > check policy recommendations here! 
  4. Save money on drinking water by buying and taking a filter water bottle so you CAN drink the tap water (which isn’t deemed as safe without further treatment)

Keep your cash secure in Cuba

Serious crime isn’t a problem in Cuba, but the more cash you have on you, the higher the risk of it being stolen.  Only take out what you need each day.  Avoid counting out large amounts of cash in public.  Secure your cash and other valuables when you are away from it.  We recommend and use the Pacsafe portable safe. Buy yours here there are a host of different options!  This nifty little device has secured our valuables around the world, even padlocked to trees with all our gear while we’ve been snorkelling on secluded (but busy) beaches! Read about portable travel safes here.

We’re always super conscious about data security too – and ALWAYS use a VPN – you can get up to 49% off RRP – or 3 months for free with this link to the VPN that we use – ExpressVPN. 

How not to get scammed with cash in Cuba

We’ve felt entirely safe while travelling in Cuba.  We don’t feel that we’ve been ripped off at all, but we always take a few precautions.  Here are some suggestions of how not to get scammed (and this holds for ANYWHERE in the world).

Always know the exchange rate when changing money

Download a currency converter app and while you might not have the most up to date exchange rates if you don’t have internet access, you’ll know the rates from a couple of weeks back.  So you’ll always know what the exchanges rates are and what you should be getting for your cash.

cuban bank notes

Always exchange money at an official CADECA

Unless you’re fluent in Cuban Spanish you’re unlikely to come out on top of a black market currency exchange.  Stick to the official currency exchanges or Cuba ATMs.

Always count any change when paying for something

Foreign currency looks entirely different.  Count it out, in the same way that you count the money that you’re handing over to pay for something.

Always confirm a price upfront for goods or services

Taking a taxi?  Buying a drink at a bar?  Buying souvenirs?  Always check the price beforehand and confirm it with the vendor.  That way there are no surprises.

Be able to tell the difference between CUP and CUC

One of the challenges of two currencies in Cuba before 2021 was that unsuspecting tourists might have been passed CUPs rather than CUCS – worth 1/24 of the rate of a CUC.  And so it was important to be able to tell if the notes you were being passed were CUP or CUC.  That’s still important, as there’s likely to be a few CUC still in circulation.  And so if you don’t want to be scammed in this way (as CUC are no longer legal tender), then you’ll need to be able to tell the difference between them.

The EASIEST way is that

  • All CUC notes or bills have monuments on them.  They also have “pesos convertibles” printed on them
  • All CUP notes or bills have the faces of famous leaders.

 (Recent) History of the Cuban Currency

The Cuban Peso (or CUP) was created as Cuba’s currency by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who was the first president of the country’s Central Bank in the post-revolution period.  The Cuban government also legalised the use of the US dollar alongside the Cuban peso in 1993 to help with stabilisation following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1994 the Cuban Government created the “Convertible” Cuban Peso (or CUC) at the same time as banning the use of US dollars. The CUC was used for buying items abroad – but couldn’t be taken out of the country.  CUC’s were pegged at US$1 to the CUC but were exchanged with the public at a rate of 24 to buy and 25 to sell.  Tourists would use CUC and Cubans would use CUP.

25 CUP (for locals) = 1 CUC

And so, until January 1, 2021, Cuba had two currencies.  The CUP and the CUC, but both called the Cuban Peso

Most tourists in Cuba until Jan 1 2021 used CUC’s.  Most Cuban’s received their wages in CUPs (that

In December 2020 the Cuban Government announced that Cubans would have until the end of June 2021 to trade in their CUCs for CUPs.    They would receive 24 Cuban Pesos (CUPs) for each 1 CUC.

And likely lose significant amounts of money doing so.

What does currency reunification mean for Cuba?

The Cuban Government also plans to publish a daily exchange rate for the Cuban peso – on the Central Bank’s website.  So it could fluctuate. 

This is likely to mean that everyday goods will increase in price.  At a time when shortages – caused by both the pandemic, a lack of tourists and the collapse of the Venezuelan economy are hitting the island hard.

FAQs on Cuban Currency

Got questions about the Cuban Currency? Or want to know more about the currency in Cuba and we haven’t answered your questions?  Check out our frequently asked questions about Cuba’s currency below, or ask us yours in the comments.

What is Cuba’s Currency?

The Cuban currency is the Cuban peso.

cuban coins

Can I buy Cuban currency in the USA, Canada or the UK?

No.  You cannot buy Cuban pesos outside of Cuba.   Cuban money is not traded internationally and is known as a closed currency.  You cannot buy Cuban currency outside of Cuba.

What is the best currency to bring to Cuba?

The best currencies to take to Cuba are the British Pounds (£), the Euro (€) or the Canadian dollars ($).

Can I use dollars in Cuba?

The US dollar remains legal tender in Cuba, but the banks no longer accept them. So while Cuban nationals can use US dollars in dollar stores, you won’t find many, if any, services willing to accept payment in US dollars, unless, of course, you pay a significant premium to do that.

Are there American Banks in Cuba?

No. There are no American Banks in Cuba.

Can I use ATMs in Cuba?

Yes.  There are ATMs in Cuba.  ATMs will work with foreign cards (with some restrictions that we’ve detailed below) ATM Cuba are not designated just for Cuban cards. 

Will my ATM card work in Cuba?

It depends.  If you have an American ATM card it will not work in Cuba.  For all other countries, you should ask your bank before travel as to whether there are restrictions on using it in Cuba.  Always take a backup card or two.

Which is the best ATM in Cuba?

The only serious answer to this is one that both works and one that has cash inside it.  Be conscious of weekends, holidays and potential power cuts and always plan when it comes to cash in Cuba.

Can I use a credit card in Cuba?

Yes and no. 

When it comes to using credit cards in Cuba, it’s a hard NO if you have a US credit card in Cuba that has been issued in the USA.  Credit cards from countries other than the USA are likely to work.  Check with your credit card company before your arrival whether they have limitations on use in Cuba. American Express will NOT work in Cuba.

If you are staying at a higher-end hotel then they will accept credit cards.  If you are staying in a casa particular (which we seriously recommend), then they are unlikely to accept credit cards.  Only high-end restaurants will accept credit cards.  If you want to organize trips, activities and even dining, then we recommend booking ahead online if you want to use your credit card. 

What is the best credit card to use in Cuba?

The best credit card to use in Cuba depends on which country you are coming from. Credit cards are not accepted in many Cuban businesses, and you may find that “the card machine isn’t working” unless you are staying in a high-end resort or visiting high-end restaurants. It’s best to confirm with your current credit card provider if they have experience with credit cards and Cuba. American Express credit cards will not work in Cuba.

What currency can I change in Cuba?

You can change Canadian dollars, British pounds sterling, Japanese Yen, Swiss Francs, Euros and Mexican pesos in Cuba.  You can see the exchange rates at the Central Bank of Cuba here.

You CANNOT exchange Irish or Scottish pound notes in Cuba.

You CANNOT exchange Australian Dollars or Hong Kong Dollars in Cuba.

Notes should be clean, without tears or creases.  (Iron them, it works!)

You *may* be able to exchange US dollars in Cuba. The situation changes regularly for US dollars.  Right now, (July 2021)  Cuban banks have been advised by the Government to STOP accepting US dollar deposits, this means that Cubans will be unlikely to accept your US dollars in exchange for Cuban pesos.

What do you do if you run out of cash in Cuba?

If you have problems in Cuba you’ll be directed to Asistur.  This is the Cuban government agency set up to help Tourists.  They can arrange for you to have money sent from abroad.  They will also be able to assist if you have problems with your credit or debit card being declined.

Can you pay in Cuba with US dollars?

Possibly.  However, it is currently (July 2021) unlikely as Cuban Banks are no longer accepting deposits in US dollars.  This may (and does frequently) change.

What is the best way of sending money to Cuba 2021?

You cannot use Paypal to send money to Cuba (this service stopped in March 2021. You cannot use Western Union to send money to Cuba (this service also stopped in March 2021). As of March 2021, it is only possible to send money to a close relative in Cuba. Definitions of close relatives differ. There are limits as to how much you can send. We have heard positive things about using Envirodinero to send money to Cuba. Sendvalu also provides a service.

Our experiences with money in Cuba

We took a small amount of cash to Cuba – we prebooked our Casa Particulars for the first two weeks of our trip and prepaid them.  For everything else we paid cash.  And we used ATMs throughout Cuba with only one problem – a card that stopped working, so we used another one.

Final Words on Cuban Currency and Money in Cuba

This article used to be SO complicated.  And now it’s easy.  Cuba has a single currency again.  But Cuba always has a fluid situation.  Take cash with you, take your ATM card, pre-pay what you can.  Cuban currency is getting a lot easier to understand, but, likely, the changes from a dual currency situation to a single one will cause a few issues before they settle down.

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